February 9, 2024

The joy of Catholic education radiates in a Mass, a fun interaction and a heartfelt message

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson poses for a photo with a group from St. Joseph School in Shelbyville after the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Week Mass in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral on Jan. 31. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson poses for a photo with a group from St. Joseph School in Shelbyville after the archdiocese’s Catholic Schools Week Mass in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral on Jan. 31. (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

By John Shaughnessy

The smiles of the children and teenagers reflected a joyful interaction that has become a fun tradition at the archdiocese’s annual Catholic Schools Week Mass.

The smiles flashed across the faces of group after group of students as they gathered around Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, accepting his invitation to join him in a photo on the steps leading up to the altar at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

Moments earlier, at the end of the Mass on Jan. 31, the archbishop had processed from near the altar, blessing the students and their teachers as he walked down the center aisle of the cathedral, which was filled with representatives from 52 of the archdiocese’s 67 Catholic schools.

When he reached the back of the cathedral, the archbishop made a quick U-turn, returning to the steps of the altar where school groups were already lined up to have their photo taken with him.

And for the next 30 minutes—until the last photo had been captured with the 20 or so school groups who waited patiently for their turn—smiles, laughs and an overall mood of joy marked the interactions.

The archbishop welcomed each group with a smile, playfully asked students if they were getting enough homework, wondered if—and where—they were getting to go to lunch before returning to school, and joked with the priests who accompanied their elementary school groups to the Mass, telling the students their priests should treat everyone to lunch.

Amid all the smiles and joy, there was one moment that led to tears. It happened shortly after Cathlene Darragh, the principal of St. Simon the Apostle School in Indianapolis, had a photo taken with the archbishop and some of her students.

“This is my 10th year as principal, and my last year. I’m retiring,” Darragh said. “For me, I get choked up. I just feel like being able to share in Mass and the Eucharist with these students, it’s been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done in my educational experience of 38 years.

“Just being able to share that with them, to be able to see the beauty of the Mass, to be able to see their growth, it’s just been humbling—and also inspiring, because they are our future, the future of our Church.”

Being there for the Mass with the archbishop and students from across the archdiocese also left its impact on Albert Hudepohl, a junior at Oldenburg Academy of the Immaculate Conception in Oldenburg.

“It’s very special,” said Albert, a member of St. Nicholas Parish in Ripley County who lined up and smiled with Oldenburg classmates in a photo taken with the archbishop. “It just shows the community, with all the schools from around this archdiocese. It shows how even though we’re spaced apart, we’re all connected.”

Asked about what makes the photo sessions special to him, Archbishop Thompson responded first with a touch of humor—and truth.

“I’m sure that’s one of the times when the last group doesn’t mind waiting. It keeps them out of class,” the archbishop said with a laugh.

Turning serious, he added, “It’s the joy of the week, celebrating Catholic Schools Week. And what’s at the heart of that is the students. We do it for Christ. We do it for the students. They’re the bread and butter of our Catholic schools. They’re why we do what we do—forming and shaping them to be good, faithful disciples, Catholics, Christians, and good citizens for society. To see their enthusiasm, their faith, is incredible.”

The joy of the Catholic faith also was the essence of the homily he shared with the students—a message that tapped into the theme of this year’s Catholic Schools Week, “United in faith and community.”

‘Having Christ at the center of everything’

“It’s important to set aside this time to celebrate as a community, not just as individual schools—the 67 schools that exist in our archdiocese—but also as one large community,” the archbishop began on the day honoring St. John Bosco, the patron saint of youth. He started orders of priests, brothers and sisters who dedicated their lives to the education of young people.

“We live in a society today where there is a rampant sense of individualism, that somehow I can do whatever I want in my life, that it’s my choice and it has no impact or repercussions on others. And yet it does.”

The problem with that approach is that “it cuts off the fullness of our growth, our maturity and spiritual health, and being fully disciples of Jesus,” the archbishop noted.

“Community is essential. It’s necessary,” he continued. “You’re studying in community. You worship in community. We love one another. We support one another. We encourage one another. We even challenge each other if necessary. All of that is important to the formation of our heart as well as the education of our mind. Community is essential. St. John Bosco realized that, and he dedicated his life to build that community.”

Just as St. John Bosco created that kind of community in the 19th century on a foundation of being Christ-centered, so are we called to do the same in our lives, in our time, the archbishop told the students.

“Having Christ at the center of everything—of faith, of community, of education, of everything you are about,” Archbishop Thompson said. “Christ has to be at the center of any and every core value that we are about in our schools. That’s why there are crucifixes in practically every classroom in our Catholic schools—to know Jesus.”

With the focus on Christ in the archdiocese’s Catholic schools, the students are receiving an education to help them “grow as members of the eternal community of heaven,” Archbishop Thompson said.

“We want your minds and your hearts to develop, and your bodies. But we want to make sure we don’t forget the soul. We can’t forget the soul.”

The archbishop pointed out that “a lot of people today call themselves Christians because they know about Jesus, but we need to know Jesus, know who he is.

“Think about the people you are closest to,” he said. “Now what do you do to the people you are closest to? Do you spend a little time with them? The people we are closest to are the people we spend the most time with. If we’re going to be Christians, if we’re going to be disciples of Jesus, we have to spend time with him. That’s why Mass is so important, that’s why prayer is so important, that’s why the sacraments are so important, that’s why the word of God is so important.”

That time and emphasis lead to the deep relationship with Christ that needs to guide our lives, the archbishop said.

“We have to keep Christ at the center,” he said near the end of his homily. “If he stays in the center, everything else will fall into place.”

That’s a reality that eighth-grade student Brooklyn Woods is trying to embrace in her life.

“My Catholic faith means stability, in the troubles of life,” said Brooklyn, a student at St. Mary School in North Vernon. “It means knowing that someone loves you, which is something you’re not always sure about, especially growing up in this age. I think it means knowing that everything is going to be OK, and God has a plan. And I’m going to get there eventually.”

She viewed the Catholic Schools Week Mass as another step in her Catholic education of making Christ the center of her life.

“It’s pretty incredible to be here with all these people that I don’t always see, but who are living Catholic lives just like I am—and just seeing how Christ reflects in them rather than just how Christ reflects in people I see every day.” †

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